Are TMCs losing their way?
by Oliver Tams, director of strategic partnerships for Think Procurement
For a while now, years, in fact, the very existence of travel management companies has been questioned by corporations and travellers alike. So much technology has evolved over the past few years, commoditising product offerings and giving travellers choice and convenience, that old necessities like having someone to talk to is now considered a bit passé.
The ‘good old days’, pre-anything that looked like a smart phone, gave TMCs easy answers to the question why? We book all of your travel, we’ll give you reports, we’ll change your travel plans when you need to, we’ll have someone there when you need us and you can’t do any of it without us. As easy as that model seemed, it was flawed once an RFT went out and the only winner, loser was whoever spiralled lowest on the transaction fee page, giving credence to the question above.
So what’s the concern for TMCs? Is it the shift and development of enhanced technology? Is it the commoditisation of their product offering or something a bit more ethereal? I contend that for many TMCs, it’s a loss of purpose. I can see the eyes rolling back now, as visions of philosophy 101, white boarding mission statements and all things wishy-washy being applied to a business model. I think purpose is the DNA of a business and if you and your staff don’t understand the reason for being, then how can your clients expect to know you, other than as a supplier.
The standard offerings of TMC ‘service’ is not changed by adding superb or personalised, ‘value’ is not enhanced by great or superior and ‘solutions’ are not elevated because of efficiency or effectiveness. Adjectives and marketing hyperbole do not differentiate you from others saying the same things differently. What differentiates you is your purpose and how you carry out that purpose. For a TMC, the question of benefit for your client should be the only question you ever ask. What is the benefit of using us over the company down the road? Seems like a simple question but if you ask “what is the benefit of that?” for every company strategy and development process, then you’ll be able to show you are there for more than money and are trying to make a difference.
Instead of superior service, always to be judged on price, or enhanced value, different for every client you encounter, why not go to the core of what you are trying to do and that is ‘get your client to their destination and back home safely’. If that becomes part of your core purpose, then even your staff understand their role and purpose in every transaction. As a result of what they do, they know they are making a difference to the family of that traveller, to the traveller and how the company’s purpose pays off in client satisfaction. If you then add process efficiencies to that purpose, your value becomes easier to understand and you have a client for life.
Bakers do more than bake bread, they create comfort through the eating and sharing of bread. Nike does more than make shoes, they inspire and create a desire to move. Starbucks does more than sell coffee, they nurture and amplify community spirit by being a focal point to meet. TMCs should do more than transact travel arrangements for the lowest possible price, they should provide comfort in the knowledge you are dealing with reputable people, they should enhance safety by using the best tracking and reporting technology available, they should take away the anxiety of being outside your comfort zone and away from loved ones by being in constant contact throughout your journeys and they should have a shared purpose with their clients, built on a promise to never let them down. You may do all of these but does your client know that or do they deal with you because you won the price war?
It’s a simple question, what is the benefit of that?